A case of French ‘immigrants’ coming over here and conducting themselves disgracefully

Prostitution on the Haymarket, c.1861

We are fairly use to the modern tabloid complaint that ‘this country is being ruined’ by an influx of foreign workers. Much of the rhetoric of Brexit concerned arguments about immigration and competition for jobs and resources. There is nothing very new in this of course, the first piece of anti-immigration legislation (the Aliens Act 1905) came about after a long anti-immigrant campaign which targeted poor European migrants like Jews from the Russian Pale.

Foreigners (broadly defined) are also often blamed for a range of social problems from bad driving, to overcrowded housing, to child abuse, and international terrorism. The reality is that while immigrants can and have been associated with all of these things, so are British born natives, from all parts of the country.

In October 1851 the Marlborough Street Police Court magistrate was exercising his particular example of the sort of casual racism and xenophobia that continues to form the basis of much anti-immigrant sentiment. In dealing with a large number of women brought in for soliciting prostitution and acting in a disorderly manner on the Haymarket, Mr Hardwick turned most of his ire on the non-English women before him.

The increased number of prostitutes in court had been the result of a clampdown by the police, as The Morning Chronicle’s readership were informed:

‘it appeared that owing to the great increase of loose women, principally foreign, and their shameless conduct in the public streets, the inhabitants had made complaints to the Police Commissioners, and instructions had, in consequence, been issued to the constables to apprehend all persons so offending’.

Mr Hardwick first dealt with the indigenous ‘disorderlies’ and then addressed the ‘foreign’ French contingent directly. He lectured them, ‘remarking that they well knew that in France they would not be permitted to conduct their profession openly, or to outrage public decency in the streets’. He fined each of them 7s and warned them that if they came before him again ‘severe measures would be resorted to’.

I’m not sure that his facts were correct; prostitution was just as much  problem in Paris as it was in London and was as likely to be prosecuted here as much as there. France was about to experience another political upheaval, as Louis-Napoleon launched his coup d’etat in December of 1851 to make himself Napoleon III, but I hardly believe that is why so many French sex workers chose to ply their trade in London. The Haymarket was notorious in the period as a place where prostitutes openly touted for business, on the streets and in the bars and theatres of the West End.

That so many of these women were foreign nationals should come us no surprise, as today many of those working London’s streets and clubs are migrants, most trafficked by criminal gangs and forced in what is effectively slave labour. I’m not sure what ‘severe measures’ Mr Hardwick had in mind, but I doubt it would have deterred the demoiselles of the Haymarket, well not for long anyway.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, October 18, 1851]

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